Joint city-Silver Creek board meet first time about complexPublished 9:48am Tuesday, January 19, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
A committee charged with planning the Russom Park youth sports complex for the Dowagiac area established priorities as it met for the first time for an hour Monday night at Silver Creek Township Hall.
The six-member panel elected Silver Creek Township Supervisor Bill Saunders as chairman and City Manager Kevin Anderson as vice chairman and secretary.
Members of the board, which will next meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 15, at City Hall, also include First Ward Councilwoman Lori Hunt, citizen Jim Benedix, Silver Creek Trustee Joel Moore and citizen Jim Humphreys, who offers professional expertise from 20 years working with the Elkhart, Ind., parks department.
Feb. 15 the committee hopes to meet with Little League, which has been playing youth baseball at Russom Field, corner of Middle Crossing Road at Yaw Street, since 1969.
The property is also bordered by Municipal Airport.
Anderson said, “From the city’s standpoint, the council wants this committee to do some good long-range master planning and say what the ultimate uses should be and start identifying funding sources so we can implement” what is expected to be a no-budget “work in progress” for the first few years – much as Russom Field was when it first moved north of town from diamonds where Northwest Park soccer fields are today.
Anderson added, “Council was pretty clear that we view this as a governing, policy-making body, not one that would be taking on maintenance and operations.”
“The other thing to emphasize from our side is that it is a community park,” Saunders said. “It’s not going to be all Little League” and other youth sports.
Saunders envisions a facility comparable to Pepper Martin Park in Howard Township.
“A pavilion, ball diamonds, barbecue grills, a nice family place. We also put in for a bike staging area.”
Moore noted the natural corridor west of the motel that remains from the interurban line to Benton Harbor that could lend itself to trails.
“South Haven just opened up some city streets to snowmobilers to bring them downtown, instead of just boaters in the summertime,” Saunders said. “They spent a lot of money.”
Saunders said as busy as B.T. Pub on M-152 is during warm lake resort months, “The largest weekend it ever had was in the winter with snowmobilers.”
“That’s a huge change from where they were,” remarked Anderson, who previously managed South Haven.
Dowagiac and Silver Creek with two partnership grants acquired “two roughly 18-acre parcels,” explained consultant Gary Carlile, the city’s former grounds director.
“After tonight, we’ve got to talk about the park and not whose side it is, but according to the application, the township acquired 18 vacant acres. The city acquired an existing 17.83 acres used for baseball. It has been developed on private land with public money. Basically, we bought the land based on appraised value and the value of those improvements was donated. The baseball leagues have been told that we’re not solving any of their financial problems, we’re simply solving their land problems. On the township side was to accommodate soccer, football. Football has a nice facility, Hassle Field (on Elm Street, off M-51 North), but they might need some practice room. Soccer’s getting really pressed for room. Also, the girls softball program would like to expand. It starts off as a youth sports park, but quickly merges into a community park.”
Development must be undertaken in accordance with a master plan the city and township will devise in the next couple of years.
Through the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund again, they could compete for development funds, though it’s “very, very competitive,” Carlile said. “It’s a matching program. Twenty-five percent minimum of the cost of the project, but, of course, to get to the application process we’ve got to have a park master plan. I think that’s pretty much where this committee is going.”
“One of the things we need to do is write up some sort of agreement between the township and the city in terms of how we’re going to operate, such as sharing liability,” Anderson said. “Relatively soon, we have to develop some sort of procedures. Under what terms will we allow Little League to use it? Obviously, they’ve been using it for a long time.”
Benedix suggested the committee obtain copies for its files of each association’s policies spelling out such things as first aid, refereeing or coaching background checks.
“Before we get too involved in this, we want to start bringing in the user groups one at a time,” Saunders said, starting with Little League, since it is signing up players for spring.
“The master plan process takes a few dollars for a landscape architect, but that’s where the fun comes in,” Anderson said. “Public meetings with various potential users groups will get the kind of feedback out of which you can develop that community park. Those kinds of things can all go on at the same time, but there are three areas we need to hit on – operating agreements among ourselves, agreements or rules for user groups and master planning.”
“We also have our own (input),” Carlile said. “We’d like to see a pavilion, we’d like to see a play area, we’d like to see a walking path. Once we’ve got all that information in a big jug …”
“One issue that comes to my mind that we’re going to have to address immediately as soon as the water is turned on,” Carlile said, “is to have that water tested. I’m a little concerned about nitrates given the agricultural uses in the area. That’s just a concern of mine.”
Anderson said such a test could be performed in the city laboratory.
Humphreys told about the Elkhart parks system, particularly 12-foot-wide asphalt trails which are multi-purpose and easy to plow.
Ironically, citizens “drive there from all over town to walk,” he said.
Carlile informed Hunt that Witko Lakes and the park would remain separate because the airport prevents linking them.
Saunders recommended having the parcel surveyed “as soon as the snow is gone so we know exactly where each corner is.”
“This park will be a work in progress for a number of years,” Saunders said. “Funding for grants depends on the master plan.”
Dowagiac and Silver Creek Township learned that their applications for $100,000 each to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund were recommended by the Trust Fund board for funding during the board’s regular meeting Dec. 3, 2008, in Lansing.
Projects recommended by the board for funding are sent to the state Legislature for final approval and an appropriation from the Natural Resources Trust Fund.
Applications developed in cooperation between the two governmental bodies sought funds to acquire an existing youth baseball park known locally as Russom Field and an additional 18 acres for development of youth soccer and football fields, a bike path on/off location, event parking and eventually a picnic shelter and play area.
The project’s estimated total cost was $464,729 requiring, in addition to the $200,000 in grant funds, $61,742 in city funds, $47,995 in township funds and an in-kind donation of appraised value by the Russom family of $154,992.
This successful effort followed an unsuccessful attempt by the city in 2005 to accomplish the project on its own.
Officials involved in this most recent effort credit tremendous public support for the project, which included formal letters of support from neighbors, youth sport organizations, school districts, governmental bodies, state elected officials and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.
As well, cooperation between the township and the city, the donation of value by the Russom family and the work of state Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, whose office provided crucial assistance during the evaluation phase by the Department of Natural Resources, contributed to the success of the grant effort, which Carlile regards as the toughest one obtained during his 35-year career.
Trust Fund money comes from oil and gas lease revenues on state-owned lands.
Trust funds are constitutionally protected and must be used for outdoor recreation purposes.